A student from the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources has been introducing children to basic engineering principles through fun, hands-on activities while volunteering at the Nursery School at West Virginia University.
Joshua Bintrim, an industrial engineering major from Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, began visiting the Nursery School in August as part of his capstone course, which requires him to complete two hours of volunteering per week.
While it was unconventional, Bintrim knew that volunteering at the school would allow him to spread awareness about engineering while also gaining some much-needed hands-on experience with children.
“My wife and I are expecting our first child in March,” Bintrim said. “I thought volunteering at the school would be a great way to share some of the knowledge I’ve learned about engineering while also gaining some wisdom on the ways of small children in the process.”
Bintrim visits the school every Friday and is tasked with teaching three- and four-year-olds how to build basic structures. He uses foam blocks, Legos and Lincoln logs to get the children to think about how small pieces can fit together to build something much larger.
“While what can be built with these blocks is limited, the children's imaginations fill in the gaps,” Bintrim said. “We have built pirate ships, space ships, motorcycles, dinosaurs, carriages and a few other crazy things. They really enjoy adding their own little flare to what we are building.”
Bintrim lets the students do the majority of the work and allows them to decide things like how many walls their structure should have or if they should install roofs and flooring. He admits that it was challenging at first to incorporate engineering principles into activities for such young children but their enthusiasm for learning and display of imagination were inspiring.
“The biggest thing I try to do is to just ignite their inquisitive nature,” Bintrim said. “I try not to help them too much and more often than not they will figure things out with minimal guidance. It’s amazing how a bunch of blue blocks in a rough shape of a truck can be turned into a firetruck with hoses and half a dozen three-year-old firefighters racing to put out a blazing building.”
Nursery School Director Barbara Warash said that Bintrim’s visits have become a highlight of the children’s week and hopes that more engineering students will follow is his footsteps.
“The children ask each day ‘Is it a Josh day?’” Warash said. “Having Joshua at the Nursery School is wonderful. He is a great role model in the early childhood field of mostly female teachers. Our students are lucky to experiencing the dynamics of creating buildings and structures as well as the rich interactions with Joshua.”
Bintrim and Warash agree that it’s essential to expose children to science, technology, engineering and math at a young age and believe that it plays a key role in setting the students up for success later in life.
“Curiosity is one of the five core values of WVU and there is nothing more curious than a three-year-old child,” Bintrim said. “It’s important to fan the flames of curiosity for STEM and keep it going as they grow up though good education and hands-on activities.
“Children are natural engineers,” Warash added. “They love to build and create and if we offer them challenging experiences by extending their thinking at a young age then we are setting the foundation for lifelong learners in STEM.”
Mary C. Dillon
Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources
Follow @WVUToday on Twitter.